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Full text of "Men Of Mathematics"

MEN  OF MATHEMATICS
they could find nothing in him but conceit and an iron deter-
mination to be a mathematician. He already was one, but they
did not know it.
Two further disasters in his eighteenth year put the last"
touches to Galois' character. He presented himself a second
time for the entrance examinations at the Polytechnique. Men
•who were not worthy to sharpen his pencils sat in judgement on
him. The result was what might have been anticipated. Galois
failed. It was his last chance: the doors of the Polytechnique
were closed forever against him.
That examination has become a legend. Galois' habit of
working almost entirely in his head put him at a serious disad-
vantage before a blackboard. Chalk and erasers embarrassed
him - tin he found a proper use for one of them. During the oral
part of the examination one of the inquisitors ventured to argue -
a mathematical difficulty with Galois. The man was both
wrong and obstinate. Seeing all his hopes and his whole life as a
mathematician and polytechnic champion of democratic liberty
slipping away from him, Galois lost all patience. He knew that
he had officially failed. In a fit of rage and despair he hurled the
eraser at his tormentor's face. It was a hit.
The final touch was the tragic death of Galois' father. As the
mayor of Bourg-la-Reine the elder Galois was a target for the
clerical intrigues of the times, especially as he had always cham-
pioned the villagers against the priest. After the stormy elec-
tions of 1827 a resourceful young priest organized a scurrilous
campaign against the mayor. Capitalizing the mayor's well-
known gift for versifying, the ingenious priest composed a set
of filthy and stupid verses against a member of the mayor's
family, signed them with Mayor Galois' name, and circulated
them freely among the citizens. The thoroughly decent mayor
developed a persecution mania. During his wife's absence one
day he slipped off to Paris and, in an apartment but a stone's
throw from the school where his son sat at his studies, com-
mitted suicide. At the funeral serious disorder broke out. Stones
were hurled by the enraged citizens; a priest was gashed on the
forehead. Galois saw his father's coffin lowered into the grave
in the midst of an unseemly riot. Thereafter, suspecting every-
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